“The Believer” by Joakim Zander (excerpt)

THE BELIEVER; pages 1-4

We’re moving low to the ground through Bergort at night, our momentum perfectly calibrated, our formation solid and compact. We’re silent, our eyes pinpricks or dashes. We’re the X-Men, Band of Brothers, the elite.

A car is burning on Drivvedsvägen, and we hear the windshield exploding from heat, see the glass shatter across the snow like ice, translucent shards of frustration and pleasure. This is just like every other night this winter, except the kids don’t even bother to run up onto the pedestrian bridge over the train tracks anymore. They stand so close the flames are reflected in their wide eyes, and their skin ends up singed.

They know exactly how long it takes for the sirens to go off. They’re

in no rush, have no deadlines to meet, don’t even have anything to run

from anymore.

But we don’t stop, we have a greater goal, we’re not just kids setting cars on fire anymore. We’re eagles and falcons, predators with razor-sharp claws, pointed teeth, and big appetites. Lois, Räven, Mehdi, and Bounty. I turn my head and see my brothers—shadows

in the glow of the fire—and something in my heart expands. I have stopped chasing you. You started to leave all this a long time ago. And even though your shadow still falls across the gray walls of our room every night as I lie in my bed, it’s my friends—my brothers—who are like me. Lost and clueless. Empty and tired.

Ey, Fadi?”

Bounty’s voice is high and hollow, as if he’s not getting enough air in his lungs.

“Shut up, faggot,” Räven hisses.

He gives him a nudge on the shoulder, pushing Bounty into the deeper snow.

“Stop it,” I say. “This is serious now, got it?”

“But . . .” Bounty says.

“No fucking buts, sharmuta.”

Räven hisses again and raises his hand.

“So you’re sure about the door code?”

Bounty continues while taking a step backward to elude the blow.

“You’re sure they didn’t change it?”

The concrete looms over us, enclosing us, holding us fast. The air is cold and smells like burning gas. I shrug, feel my lungs tighten. Feel what I always do: I don’t know anything, am never sure of anything.

“Yes, damn it,” I say. “So shut up.”

We wait in the shadows on the other side of Pirate Square even though it’s empty, even though it’s one-thirty in the morning. We wait until we hear the sirens cut across the highway, wait until we see the sky above the playground illuminated by blue lights. Wait until we see Mehdi trudging across the icy flagstones outside Sami’s kebab shop, his steps muffled thuds in the winter darkness. The sirens are gone now, the only sound kids screaming on their way across the footbridge in the opposite direction.

“All clear,” Mehdi pants, his lungs whistling with asthma.

He leans forward, groaning.

“Only the fire department, they don’t even send the police anymore.”

We all nod in silence, as solemn as a funeral. This is serious now. The key burns in my pocket, the code in my memory. I bend backward and let my eyes drift toward the other side of the square and then up—to the windows covered with the sticky handprints of children, the cracked facade, the tangled blinds, the bedsheet curtains, the satellite dishes, the Somalian flags, and then up to the roof and beyond. The sky is black and cold, and not even the stars are out tonight, not even a sad sliver of a moon, just empty, black clouds, and nothing. Still, I let my eyes rest there, as frozen as my fingers and the night. This is the real choice. You or my brothers.

I force my eyes away from the sky, like pulling a tongue from a frozen flagpole, and say:

“What are you waiting for? Jalla!”

We rush in formation across the square, as stealthy as fucking drones. We’re a unit, we’re gangsters, we’re elite. We make no sound, only smoke comes from our mouths, just breath and blood rushing in our ears, just us and our mission.

It’s easy. Punch in the front door code, don’t even look over my shoulder. Everybody in, and then I do what I’ve seen you do—head straight for the white keypad, my heart beating, punch in the code and see from on the display, only a thousandth of a second wait for the long beep that means it’s worked, and we’re inside. Fast high fives, silence, flashlights on, and down the hall into the studio.

Two MacBooks on the table in the mixing room. Swoosh! Ours now. Two Samsungs charging. Swoosh! Ours now. Three small tablets. Swoosh! Mics and guitars. We look at each other. Fuck it. Too heavy. I bend down over the mixing table, squatting, groping in the darkness until I find it. Slowly I pull out the Nike shoe box. Open it, bend my face in closer, and let the sweet smell of weed wash over me.

Ey!

I hold up a joint for the brothers, whose eyes widen as they give me the thumbs-up. But there’s more. I saw it when I was here with you, saw Blackeye take two thousand and give it to some fucking hanger-on to buy liquor. That’s when this first occurred to me, when the idea was born.

I sneak into the other the office. Pull on the top drawer, but it’s locked. Jackpot.

“Räven!” I whisper into the studio. “Screwdriver.”

Räven is the king of the screwdriver, chisel, and crowbar. There’s no window, no door he can’t open—so this is easy. He braces himself against the desktop and bends over and the drawer jumps up and out. The cash box is green and heavy, and I stop Räven from prying it open.

“Fuck it,” I say. “We’ll do that later.”

And then it’s over. We run out the door like water, our hands full of loot, down toward the playground, where we divide it roughly. I’ll take the cash box and a MacBook.

“Lie low. See you Thursday.”

And then it’s over. The night is cold and empty and quiet. Not even the cars are burning anymore and exhaustion washes over me like an ocean, like snow, like darkness, and I stagger home, quiet and empty, not at all like I expected.

 

(To purchase the book, simply click on the cover at the top)

 

 

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